IRVING, Texas -- Jason Garrett referred to Calvin Johnson as “arguably the best player in the National Football League” earlier this week, but his defensive coordinator doesn’t even think Johnson will be the best receiver at Cowboys Stadium on Sunday.
Rob Ryan considers Johnson, who has caught two touchdowns in each game during the Detroit Lions’ 3-0 start, a cut below the Dallas Cowboys’ starting receivers.
“We work against better receivers with Miles Austin and Dez Bryant,” Ryan said. “They are probably two of the premier receivers in football, but this guy is right there. He’s almost that good. He’s excellent.
“We’re going to get after him. I know he’s on some touchdown thing like that, whatever. [Detroit offensive coordinator] Scott Linehan has done this before with great receivers with Randy Moss. If the guy is as good as Randy Moss, I’m going to go in there and hide. Thank God he’s not, but he’s a pretty damn good player.”
Austin won’t play against the Lions because of a hamstring injury. Bryant’s status is in question after he didn’t practice the last two days due to a thigh bruise.
Johnson fared pretty well the last time he faced one of Ryan’s defense. He lit up the Cleveland Browns in a 38-37 Detroit win on Nov. 22, 2009, catching seven passes for 161 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown.
Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford threw for a then-rookie-record 422 yards and five touchdowns in that game.
“I made him look like Bobby Layne one game, but about 250 yards of that was on inside linebackers that had never played,” Ryan said. “We had a kid playing middle linebacker who played defensive tackle and we had a kid making his first start who was looking for his letter jacket. I mean, whatever.
“The kid is fantastic. He’s a great player. I think it’s all been written about him how great he is.”
Stafford, who is healthy after two injury-plagued seasons, ranks among the league’s top five in passer rating (110.7), yards (977) and touchdowns (nine).
Ryan said he studied the tape of that game because he expects Linehan, whom he considers one of the league’s best offensive coaches, to try to attack his scheme in similar ways.
“Obviously I had to get the plays that hurt us before corrected,” Ryan said. “We’re hoping he runs them again.”
Ryan believes he’s working with far superior personnel now. In fact, he expects the Cowboys to finish the season as the NFL’s top-ranked defense. He firmly believes that the Cowboys, who have the fifth-ranked total defense after three games, have the best talent in the NFL on that side of the ball.
“Yeah, I know I do,” Ryan said. “This is the best defensive personnel in football and I’m fortunate enough to be here.”